Thursday, January 12, 2012

What’s In a Hebrew Name?

Last week, I signed up for a Beginning Modern Hebrew course offered locally by HaDavar Messianic Ministries. The first meeting was devoted to becoming familiar with the Hebrew letters, different scripts, and some basic conversational phrases. We students had to introduce ourselves to each other in Hebrew, and the instructor Racheli Morris made a point of asking who had a “Hebrew name” (e.g., Mary, Judith), using that as a learning tool for pronunciation it seems. Later, she talked to us about her Jewish background and her experience as a teacher in Israel and the United States. She mentioned how inspired she had been throughout her life by the life of Jacob’s wife Rachel in the Bible. It was as if she saw herself having a special connection with her namesake much in the way Roman Catholics have with their nameday saints.

Sitting there in class, something occurred to me. Technically, I have a “Hebrew name.” My middle name is “Annette,” a variant of “Hannah” (i.e., “grace”). I admire many women in the Bible and Apocrypha (e.g., Tamar the first, Rahab, Abigail, Susannah), but it hadn’t occurred to me that, since a child, I’ve especially admired Samuel’s mother Hannah (I Samuel 1). Childless in a culture that valued women primarily by their childbearing capabilities, she was living in a polygynous marriage with a rival who knew how to hit where it hurt most. She knew that the solution to her problem was not “being content in the Lord,” but having a child. She ignored her husband Elkanah, who had tried to tell her to get her priorities straight. She put up a stunning defense against Eli, a priest at Shiloh, who had attacked her character. She knew what she wanted and that it wasn’t wrong it want it. And when she petitioned the Lord for it, He granted it to her.

I don’t believe there’s some sort of spiritual connection between Hannah in the Bible and me, not any more than I believe that there’s one between Saint Anne, the reputed mother of the Virgin Mary, and me. However, now I do think of my name and remember Hannah’s story and its important lesson: God can give you your heart’s desire, even when those in authority wish to think you selfish, unreasonable, and even morally wrong.